Giving Children With PTSD Hope for a Bright Future
Aydan was just 1 and already the physical trauma and neglect he suffered during his early life left him unable to emotionally connect with others and caused him to react aggressively to touch. At 16 months, Aydan was removed from his home and placed in foster care in Silver Spring with Jenni Milton and her husband, Ben. Milton recalls Aydan having two moods: quiet and unresponsive, and irritable. “He would either avoid eye contact or show no interest in play,” Milton says, “or he would become easily agitated if I talked to him or held him.”
Recognizing that Aydan’s emotional and social challenges could limit his development, Jenni sought help from the Lourie Center. She enrolled Aydan in the Montgomery County Infants and Toddlers Program, a program which is coordinated by Montgomery County Public Schools and staffed by Lourie Center therapists. While in the program, Aydan received the individualized care he needed as a toddler and began to show signs of progress.
At 4-years-old, Aydan was accepted into the Lourie Center’s Therapeutic Nursery Program (TNP). “The TNP is a specialized preschool for children with emotional, social and behavioral challenges,” says Jimmy Venza, PhD, of the Lourie Center for Children’s Social & Emotional Wellness. The staff at the TNP is experienced in caring for children like Aydan with posttraumatic stress disorder and attachment disorders. After six months in the TNP, Jenni noticed that Aydan was becoming less fearful of others, initiating play, and beginning to establish trust.
Today, Aydan is a happy and energetic 8-year-old boy who is enrolled at the Lourie Center School and working to transition to a mainstream classroom environment. Jenni and her husband have now adopted Aydan and made him a permanent part of their family. “He is a loving, caring and funny young boy,” Jenni says. “He says ‘Mommy, I love you’ all the time and enjoys reading books.”
“I am so grateful for the Lourie Center staff for their continued dedication to helping my son progress and live to his fullest potential,” Jenni says.
Five-year-old Jack came to the Lourie Center’s Therapeutic Nursery Program (TNP) because he had difficulty interacting with other children. Jack is a bright, artistic child and very engaging with adults. He also struggles with anxiety that at times is overwhelming, especially in social environments with his peers. His worries often have been expressed in aggressive behavior toward his peers, teachers, and family.
The TNP provides four hours of educational and therapeutic activity Monday to Friday, all year round. The goals of the TNP are to help young children overcome social and emotional delays by building positive relationships with adults and peers and helping children express their feelings – whether anxious, sad, angry, or excited – in safe ways. With this foundation, children can be successful in school throughout their life.
Nearly a year and a half later, thanks to the support and guidance from the TNP staff , Jack is better able to express his feelings in a positive way. He continues to develop skills to help calm himself down (a process called self-regulating) when he is upset. He is learning to use words to communicate his feelings instead of kicking, scratching, and hitting. Importantly, he is learning to trust adults and seek out their support when he needs help. These skills will be critical to Jack's success when he transitions to kindergarten.
"Since enrolling in the Therapeutic Nursery Program, Jack's progress at home and in the classroom has been remarkable," said Jack’s mother Jennifer Howard. "Jack is learning how to communicate with his family and his peers in way that helps him build confidence, feel secure and establish trust. We are just delighted to see our little boy growing, learning and happy."
The TNP is a family-centered intervention program that works collaboratively with parents to encourage and support their child’s positive emotional growth in the classroom and at home. Jack continues to make significant progress in the TNP and at home and he is working toward graduation this summer.
Raising children in a military family poses its own unique challenges. For army veteran Monica Petteway and her husband, Johnny Petteway, raising their son Jordan (pictured right) was even more challenging because of his behavioral problems, which affected his relationship with family and his ability to be successful at school.
“Jordan was a smart boy who knew right from wrong but seemed unable to control his impulses, regulate his body, and express himself in a constructive way,” said Monica. In 2010, when Johnny was deployed to Iraq for one year, Jordan’s behavior became increasingly destructive at home and at school. “My deployment affected Jordan because I was no longer around to be a dad, to accompany him to school events and to spend quality time with him,” said Johnny. “It was difficult for Jordan to adjust to having one parent at home when he saw other children who were supported by both parents.”
Jordan was verbally and physically aggressive toward his family, his classmates, and teachers at school. “Despite the fact the Jordan is a smart boy, his teachers only saw a troubled child and failed to give him the help he needed,” said Monica. After Jordan was expelled from a Takoma Park preschool in 2010 due to his behavior problems, he was referred to the Lourie Center’s Therapeutic Nursery Program (TNP).
“From the moment we stepped inside the Lourie Center, we felt welcomed and instantly at ease,” said Monica. “Every staff member we encountered seemed to play a role in Jordan’s progress by establishing healthy and consistent structure for him to follow. A simple ‘good morning’ greeting from the Lourie Center’s reception staff as we walked in helped Jordan understand and model respectful behavior. Even Jordan’s younger autistic brother Jaydan learned to wave goodbye to the staff by the time Jordan graduated from the program!”
The staff at the TNP not only took time to get to know Jordan as an individual, they also took time to talk to Monica and understand her concerns as a parent with a behaviorally-challenged child and an autistic child. “What Jordan and I learned at the TNP is invaluable, and it helped us become a stronger family,” said Monica.
Through field trips and other group activities, Jordan learned patience and self-control. He also learned how to express his emotions and better communicate with staff members and classmates. “I am so grateful to the TNP for bringing out the smart and loving child in Jordan and helping us support each other as a family,” said Monica. Jordan can now adapt to changes in a much more productive way and he is able to connect with his family, classmates and teachers.
“The Lourie Center is a permanent part of our lives,” said Monica. “The early intervention the TNP provided has helped us everyday. The TNP truly believed in my son’s potential and they gave him the guidance, structure, and support he needed to be successful. The care my son received was exceptional.”